If it is possible to fly under the radar while gracing the Kitchener Rangers blueline, Frank Hora might be doing so.
The 17-year-old rookie defenceman is earning praise for his start with the rebuilding Rangers, where he's managed to keep his plus/minus in the black while playing big minutes for a 20th-place team. Hora, who hails from Cheektowaga, N.Y., near Buffalo, has displayed an uncompromising work ethic. Perhaps that isn't surprising for those who have a window into his background. Hora grew up in a household of seven kids, where his father Mike worked long hours, first as a firefighter and currently as a contractor who also serves as a volunteer fire chief.
"He definitely didn't get a lot of sleep, having me and my six siblings to look after," Frank Hora, who is plus-4 and has five assists in 17 games for the Rangers. "My dad didn't get to play a lot of hockey [in his youth], but he taught me a lot about being disciplined and being able to control my emotions."
Hora's No. 44 jersey actually references his birth order, since he's the middle child for his parents Linda and Mike, fourth of seven. Speaking of No. 4, Hora also credits Rangers captain Ben Fanelli with helping ease his adjustment to the OHL. Hora spent his 16-year-old season playing under-18 hockey in the U.S. while also filling in with the Ontario Junior Hockey League's Buffalo Jr. Sabres.
"It's definitely a big confidence booster," Hora says. "Every shift, [Fanelli's] always helping me with new plays to make. He's just keeping me calm throughout the game."
Hora pulled down first-pairing minutes over the past two weeks while Vancouver Canucks prospect Evan McEneny recovered after sustaining a brain injury when he was checked in the head by the Guelph Storm's Fabbri. (McEneny is close to returning.) The Rangers believed Hora handled the increased workload with aplomb.
"His plus/minus rating is indicative of the way he's played," first-year head coach Troy Smith says. "He just keeps it simple. He's a strong kid. The bottom line is he's working at getting better and he's got a lot of potential. He's just a quiet kid who comes to work every day. He's getting better at making sure he doesn't get himself in bad positions.
"There's obviously areas of his game that he can get better at, but we've played him in every situation — from power play to penalty kill to facing other teams' best lines. Playing with Fanelli has really helped him."
Hora, listed at 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds, was not included on NHL Central Scouting's Players To Watch list that was released on Thursday. His teammate, centre Ryan MacInnis was listed as a B skater (potential second- or third-round choice). Wing Nick Magyar was listed as a C skater (potential fourth to seventh-rounder). Players perceived as having a high ceiling or a set of pro-calibre tools often show up on early draft rankings. Hora may have a chance if he can keep exhibiting a good hockey IQ.
"It's just about keeping it simple in front of my own net and being smarter in my own zone," he says.
1. Which NHL player(s) do you study closely since you feel your game could be the same as his, or theirs, some day?
"One of the guys I like to watch is Dion Phaneuf [of the Toronto Maple Leafs]. He's strong and tough in his own zone. He will also help the team on offence. He's a leader, too."
2. While it's only the one-quarter point of the season, who is the most challenging forward you have have so far in the OHL?
"Toughest forward? Probably either [Erie Otters' Connor] McDavid or [Nick] Ritchie on Peterborough."
3. Aside from family, who is one person who comes to mind when you think, "If not for him, I might not be in the OHL?"
"Deron Bauer, he coached me and he is a scout for Owen Sound. He helped me improve a ton."
4. Western New York state is practically Canada, but what is something you're still getting wrapped around now that you are living in Ontario?
"Definitely the Celsius for the weather. I still don't understand it."
5. Elite athletes are expected to adopt super-strict dietary habits, but no one is perfect ... what is something you can't resist consuming?
"Probably nachos or chicken wings. That's a favourite guilty pleasure."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.